The NYCFC Experience

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The buildup was worth it, the wait was worth it, the long-ass subway rides were worth it and, of course, the win was totally worth it.

In an environment where you would usually hear Yankee fans bitching and moaning about Alex Rodriguez’s illustrious past and tears from the Derek Jeter retirement waterfall, there was absolutely none of that.

There were only assorted chants from the New York City FC supporter group the Third Rail and other fans alike.

Twenty minutes into NYCFC’s 2-0 win over the MLS Cup runners-up New England Revolution at their inaugural home opener, David Villa sent the crowd into a frenzy with a nicely placed 1v1 goal past Revolution goalkeeper Bobby “not Jesus” Shuttleworth (who, by the way, had a fantastic game). Madness ensued. Fellow season ticket holders in my vicinity all high-fived each other while screaming at the top of their lungs, drunk off of a couple of $15 Heinekens (yeah, a pint actually costs that much inside the stadium).

The experience was off to a great start. Villa’s first home goal for the club united season ticket holders as one for the first time in NYCFC history. Shortly after the goal, I started conversing with a fellow season ticket holder named Danny and one of his friends. Immediately, he brought up the Red Bulls and the potential rivalry that could heat up after the first couple of fixtures NYCFC plays against the Red Bulls, at Red Bull Arena in May and at Yankee Stadium in late June.

“The Red Bulls were cool for a couple of years,” Danny said. “But then I just didn’t feel that I had the obligation to attend games in New Jersey. It’s yet another hassle for my friend and I that we can’t handle.”

That seems to be common with NYCFC fans. New Jersey is the armpit of the United States, the commute is a huge pain in the ass going there and back, and the name is penned under New York and not New Jersey. The fanbase has been solidified since the MetroStars took ground at then-Giants Stadium. I’m a New York Jets fan (you know, the handegg team) and yeah, of course it’s annoying to root for a team based in New Jersey, but at least they played in New York at one point. (Their move from Shea Stadium to the Meadowlands still angers my dad to this day.)

The weird thing is that I never saw Danny and his friend again after the second half. They APTOPIX MLS Revolution New York City FC Soccermust have disappeared into one of the 50 million bars in Yankee Stadium trying to find the best bargain on beers, in which I would’ve said to them, “Good luck trying to find a beer less than $15.”

The funny thing is that I hate the Yankees and Manchester City. I’m not one of those people that are supporting NYCFC because of their City roots, which is the common go-to response for Red Bull fans and MLS fans in general. “Oh, you’re going to be infested with money because of City Football Group.”

For me, though, it was more about becoming a “founding member” of the club by buying season tickets for the first time in my life. At a ripe young age of 18, I saved $340 of my hard-earned money (mostly Christmas money and measly valet tips) to purchase a piece of history.

Another guy who sat right in front of me with his wife and kids started talking to me after Villa’s first goal. I never got his name, but he seemed more ecstatic than ever about the whole experience. “YAAAAAAAAAA ILLA ILLA MARAVILLA!” he cried. “Illa Illa Maravilla” is a chant used by La Liga ultras, and it was used frequently when Villa played on Zaragoza (please come back to La Liga).

At the end of the first half, I decided to walk around Yankee Stadium. As funny as it sounds, that was my first visit to Yankee Stadium. Never in my life (maybe once during my infancy, but I don’t remember) have I stepped foot inside the baseball cathedral for anything. Anything.

The souvenir stand was flooded with people that wanted to get their hands on overpriced jerseys that you could buy at Modells for $50 less (about $150 at the stadium), home opener scarfs, hats, pennant flags – you name it, the kiosk had it.

The second half started, and I rushed back to my seat after cramming a hot dog (not so much like Joey Chestnut) and enjoyed the thrashing of the Revolution for the remainder of the game.

Khiry Shelton immediately made an impact as soon as he came on. Less than three minutes into his stint, he forced a red card on José Gonçalves and later on, Patrick Mullins slotted the insurance goal via a Villa cross to seal the game. Sadly for the traveling Revolution supporters, the Revolution didn’t pull off a PSG-against-Chelsea with ten men and ended up with only two shots in the entire second half.

The last 10 minutes was pretty much Villa just screwing around by performing back heel flicks to woo the crowd. Even Mix Diskerud joined in on Villa’s back heel fun time. Chants MLS: New York City at Orlandoof “Eye of The Tiger,” in lieu of Diskerud (“Mix, Mix, Mix, Diskeruuuuuuuud!”) blared throughout the section next to me near the end of the game. The guy in front of me with his wife and kids started conforming to the Mix chants next to us and his wife just stared at him like he was a deranged stranger.

For a game that was only to be attended by season ticket holders and single game ticket holders in Bleacher Creature land, approximately 18,000 people turned into 43,507. Once Yankee Stadium announced that they were going to open up the nosebleeds, a couple of my friends immediately bought the cheap seat tickets.

That’s another thing. People that didn’t seem to have a personal connection for the Red Bulls are now coming together through NYCFC. They couldn’t care less about the team’s affiliation with two of the biggest sporting conglomerates in the world. They care about supporting the new guys on the block in their own neighborhood.

The MetroStars, in their own way, were somewhat big as the area team. Most MetroStars fans ended up not rooting for the Red Bulls, because of the team name change. For some, it was rather insulting to change their name from a New York symbol to an energy drink.

Now, I don’t know how many Red Bull fans have jumped ship to NYCFC because of the name change or the location of Red Bull Arena, but I can say this: call NYCFC fans “plastic” and “bandwagoners” all you want. They don’t care. The franchise hasn’t even played 5 games and people already getting labeled as, essentially, casuals, because of the all-Manchester City fans-are-NYCFC-fans generalization.

Maybe being lambasted for supporting an expansion franchise of a potential rival is a good thing. When Diskerud scored the franchise’s first goal against Orlando City, he kissed the crest and people were like “the hell is he kissing?” Meanwhile, Kaka scores off a massively lucky deflection off of Jeb Brovsky’s chest and is praised for his emotion during his post goal celebration. Yawn…

But that’s beside the point, which is that MLS’ popularity is growing – slowly, but it’s getting there. For most New York football fans, NYCFC is the start of something new. And it certainly was showcased by the 43,507 people that witnessed history.

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Oh Louie, What Art Thou Doing?

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This was supposed to go differently. I was ready to talk about Louis van Gaal’s lack of a footballing style – I wouldn’t call it a philosophy yet – and how his United side look so much the antithesis of an United side. Put simply, Van Gaal’s United so far have been, well, boring.

There was no impetus to attack, let alone attack in the mold of the old United teams that came at you in droves. Where the United of old were daring, this iteration of United was cautious and methodical. Old United sides came at you swinging. This United side just tapped at you until you went to sleep.

Then yesterday happened, and all of a sudden, you could see what Louis van Gaal wanted to do, sorta. The problem is that he doesn’t have the personnel to do it.

After getting dumped out of the FA Cup by Arsenal (the London club recording its first win at Old Trafford since 2006), Manchester United looked lost, aimless. The first calls for van Gaal’s head came through the media, and it looked like the Dutch master was on his way out.

Then van Gaal had the fortune of playing Tottenham Hotspur, and United looked like a proper team for the first time in ages. Not coincidentally, LvG made two changes to his side that probably played a big part in the transformation: Juan Mata played as the auxiliary striker, and Michael Carrick was deployed in midfield.

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It took twenty minutes for Carrick to remind everyone how much this team misses him in the middle of the park, as the former Spur recorded an assist and a goal in the first half. Carrick’s confidence on the ball (not to mention Mauricio Pochettino’s failed deployment of Andros Townsend to start the game instead of Moussa Dembele) gave United a much needed spark and something approaching some kind of philosophy.

Granted, this game was mostly about Pochettino getting his tactics wrong rather than van Gaal getting his right, but based on this display, Carrick should start the majority of the games going forward.

Likewise, Mata, ostracized in recent weeks (and months, and years), came on and looked immediately more comfortable playing behind Wayne Rooney than Angel di Maria (who missed the game through suspension) ever has.

While neither player has the right skills to play that position in the way van Gaal probably wants it to be played (which is basically be Arjen Robben), Mata is more comfortable in that advanced role than Di Maria is since it is not unlike the role he played for Chelsea.

Juan gives LVG an interesting dynamic. He allows the Dutchman to employ his best striker, Rooney, in his favored position, while Carrick can help retain possession and move the ball better than any other midfielder on United’s books this season.

It would seem that two players who were pegged to be surplus to requirements at United in the beginning of the season may just be the keys for van Gaal to get his philosophy entrenched at Old Trafford.

How’s that for philosophical?

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Yoann Gourcuff: A Tortured Prodigy

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Let’s take a trip back to August of 2010: it was just over a month since France self combusted in the World Cup unlike any country in recent memory, the 2010-11 Ligue 1 season was about to begin and one of the young members from that disgraceful French squad was about to start his new journey. For the sum of around 23 million Euros, Yoann Gourcuff signed on from Bordeaux to Lyon.

“The next Zinedine Zidane” as some in the French media touted him, this was the big money move that should’ve launched Gourcuff’s career to a point that though probably wouldn’t reach Zidane’s apex, it would damn near get close. His career up until that move was filled with highs and lows. His Milan tenure was a disaster. Gourcuff never fitted in the minute he came in, with teammates and coaches taking shots at the Frenchman. It also didn’t help that his competition in the squad included a fella by the name of Kaka, who at that time was one of the best players in world football and at the peak of his powers.

That all set up a loan move to Bordeaux and under the stewardship of Laurent Blanc, Yoann Gourcuff’s career would take off. He was part of the 2008-09 Bordeaux side that won the French domestic double; the league title and the Coupe de la Ligue. It was also the side that famously ended Lyon’s stranglehold on the Ligue 1 crown. Up until 2008-09, Lyon had won seven straight Ligue 1 crowns.

Gourcuff also experienced the individual accolades during his time with Bordeaux. In his first season: He won the Ligue 1 player of the year award, was player of the month in April of 2009. He was part of the Ligue 1 team of the year, was named French player of the year from the illustrious magazine France Football, and finished 20th in the Ballon D’or voting. 15 goals and 15 assists in all competitions, it was Gourcuff at his absolute best. His accuracy from dead ball situations was superb, his ability to maneuver in tight spaces was Zidane like.

The team success wasn’t as plentiful for Gourcuff in his second season with Bordeaux. Bordeaux finished 6th in Ligue 1 and didn’t qualify for the Europa League, they lost to Marseille in the Coupe de la Ligue final and bowed out of the Coupe de France in the round of 16 versus Monaco. The only saving grace of Bordeaux’s season was their run in the Champions League that got them to the quarterfinals against Lyon. Gourcuff on an individual level still performed at a high level.

Thanks to @mixedknuts and @SamiHernia for making these radars public

Thanks to @mixedknuts and @SamiHernia for making these radars public

The two year run with Bordeaux was a massive success for Yoann Gourcuff, especially when one considers how big of a disaster his time at Milan was. He won a lot of trophies in a short time span, won individual awards and had a taste of the Champions League. Even though his 2009-10 season concluded with him being a member of the 2010 French WC side that left a black mark in the history of French football, Gourcuff should’ve embarked on the prime years of his career with his move to Lyon.

Alas the operative word is “should’ve”. His time with Lyon has been a mess, with injuries cutting out so many games over the past five seasons. He has never cracked over 2000 minutes in a Ligue 1 season with Lyon (he did this in both his Bordeaux seasons), and has only cracked the 1500 minute in Ligue 1 once which was his first season in 2010-11. Name the body part and there’s a good chance that Gourcuff injured it; multiple knee injuries, groin strains, back issues, repeated foot injuries. These weren’t the type of injuries that would put Gourcuff out for a week or two, but multiple months.

It was a shame, a football tragedy. Someone as talented as Gourcuff, who combined his talent on the ball with the intellect and tactical awareness of a genuine football manager wasn’t supposed to have the prime of their career cut out because of weird, niggling injuries that would repeatedly come out worse than expected. It even got to the point where Gourcuff missed the final game of last season because he sprained his ankle walking the dog. Seriously! It was as if someone had a Yoann Gourcuff voodoo doll and for whatever reason, decided that those Bordeaux years was enough happiness for the rest of us.

There’s a famous saying in football: “form is temporary, class is permanent”. Gourcuff really tested the limits of that saying. His production during his first four seasons with Lyon was a far cry from his years in Bordeaux when he was the embodiment of magical.

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Which brings us to this season. It’s been a resurgent one for Lyon. They’re in a genuine fight for their first Ligue 1 title since 2007-08. Led by the terrific striker duo of Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir and the brilliance of goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, the quality of football being produced by the club has been exquisite, possibly the highest quality the Stade Gerland has seen since the days of Juninho, Florent Malouda and Co.

Gourcuff himself has seen a resurgence. The impact and production he’s had this season is reminiscent of his peak years many moons ago, and his goal versus Marseille will be one of the defining moments of Lyon’s season if they manage to fend off PSG for the league crown. After years of suffering and disappointment, this would be the season that will at least remind us of how special Gourcuff still is.

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Sadly, there’s a caveat. The injury bug that has plagued Gourcuff over the last four seasons has remained. Despite the impressive production he’s had this season, it’s only come in 724 minutes and the ways that Gourcuff has managed to injure himself has been positively Gourcuff-ian. Almost as if every good game he produces is some sort of elaborate tease. Look no further to his last performance versus Montpellier last Sunday; two assists on the goals from Fekir including a beautiful 1-2 combination on the first goal.

And here’s another bummer: Gourcuff picked up an injury to his biceps femoris (AKA his thigh) late in the Montpellier match and will likely be out for the massive match versus Marseille on Sunday. It wouldn’t be shocking considering his injury past that Gourcuff would also have to miss next week’s match versus Nice before the international break.

Maybe it wasn’t to be. Maybe it was supposed to play out like this. The young prodigy never fulfilling the prophecy of becoming a heralded great in his native country. Football is littered with stories of young dynamic talents who the world was their oyster but for whatever reason, never quite grabbed onto it. With his contract ending at seasons’ end, we’re embarking on what might be the last stages of Yoann Gourcuff’s career with Lyon. They’ll be suitors for his services. Despite it feeling like forever that he’s been in the public eye, Gourcuff is still only 28 years old and some club will trick themselves into thinking that they could suck some more magic from that mangled body.

It’s pretty fitting that Gourcuff is injured for one of Lyon’s biggest games since the 2010 Champions League semi-finals versus Bayern Munich. Anything different would’ve just been another tease that Gourcuff’s body would’ve played on us. If this truly is the end of Yoann Gourcuff’s time in Ligue 1, treasure what’s left of it: his next delightful throughball, his next assist, his next goal.

His mind was Mozart, his body more resembled a crash test dummy. Oh what could’ve been for a man who 5 years ago looked like the next great Frenchman.

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Mailbag: Spurs’ Defense, Mou’s Bus Preferences, Monaco’s Rebirth

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Q: Will Tottenham ever find a back four that actually knows how to defend properly?

A: Spurs have benefited a lot this season (and last and even the season before last) from Hugo Lloris’ talents. He’s has made no shortage of huge saves for Spurs this season, and averages 3.3 saves per game, the fifth most in the Premier League. But if he moves on in summer, the backline he has shielded could have real problems.

There’s no real area of strength in Tottenham’s back four. Danny Rose isn’t up to the quality of a team that has ambitions of playing in the Champions League. Kyle Walker is solid but unspectacular. Eric Dier isn’t a natural right back (he’s a CB, and he’s only 21), and DeAndre Yedlin is not ready for Premier League action. Federico Fazio started terribly, but has been better lately. Jan Vertonghen is probably still scarred from the abuse he suffered at the hands of Marc Wilmots this past summer.

West-Ham-United-v-Tottenham-Hotspur-Premier-LeagueBasically, Mauricio Pochettino needs to sign three players. He needs a true #1 centerback, an improvement at left back and a depth signing at right back. Additionally, a good CDM that can help Poch use his press to his liking will make the centerbacks’ jobs a lot easier.

We really don’t yet know what Tottenham will be willing to spend this summer to achieve this. They splurged after the Bale sale and were subsequently awful; they were more prudent last summer and have really improved. So to answer the question: Spurs really could have a nice backline within two years. But remember: Spurs.–Jordan

Q: Why is Diego Costa?

A: Maaaaan. The pace, the power, the strength, the finishing…he’s ridiculous. A lot of people didn’t know much about him before he exploded last season, but his ascent really started during a 10-goal, 16-game loan spell at Rayo Vallecano in 2011-12. The next year, he scored 20 in all comps and was instrumental in Atlético’s Copa victory, and after Radamel Falcao’s departure, he became the guy we all know now (and the guy SOME CHELSEA FANS DIDN’T WANT). The only thing(s) that can stop him are his disciplinary issues and his hamstrings–I’m still not convinced he won’t have a recurrence of damage to the latter.–Jeremy

Q: What’s Jose Mourinho’s favorite model of bus?

A: Excellent question. There are so many buses to choose from: the standard floor bus you see every day, the school bus, the tourist trolley. There are an infinite amount of possible answers to this question. Personally? I would think Jose’s favorite bus is the campaign bus. Wikipedia describes the campaign bus as “a bus used as both a vehicle and a center of operations in a political campaign, whether for a specific candidate, a political party, or a political cause.”

It fits well with Mou’s second stint in Chelsea. All of last season, he talked about how the EPL season is a campaign, that he wanted to get his little horses to the finish line. This season, he’s talked about a campaign AGAINST Chelsea staged by the FA. Plus the size of Park-the-bus-is-phrase-Jo-008the bus is humongous so when it’s parked, it’s a sight to behold. But why stop there, let’s look at other favorite models of buses for football clubs:

  • Monaco (Armoured Bus)

An armoured bus is pretty much as advertised: heavily armoured and equipped to protected civilians from explosive devices. Turkish manufacturer Temsa, was the first to manufacture armored buses. Monaco frankly don’t care about playing anything close to attractive football and have no shame for it. They only care for results and they’re producing them to the groan of every viewer sad enough to take in a Monaco game.

  • Villarreal (Chicken Bus)

Latin American countries use a chicken bus to transport both people and goods. the chicken part of the name could have something to do with how crammed it can be inside, but the essence of the bus is colorful, decorated and vibrant. Since their promotion back to La Liga, Villarreal have been a breath of fresh air for the league and have helped it become much stronger one through seven.

  • Chievo (Oil Tankers)

We’re cheating a bit here since oil tankers aren’t actually buses (they’re ships), but nonetheless, as Serie A expert Cole Patty once said:”Buses?! Chievo park oil tankers.”–Moe

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Q: Has Asier Illarramendi ever been hurt and had someone call him ‘Illonthemendi’?

A: Asier Illarramendi has never been hurt because he plays five minutes at a time every Asier+Illarramendi+Real+Madrid+CF+v+Sevilla+ce_NXlzb28plcouple weeks. Boom roasted.–Jeremy

Q: Do you consider the PSG project to be a failure if they don’t win the league this year? Also, with the youth Monaco have, could we see them perennially challenging for the title with a bit of continued investment?

A: In short: no and maybe. Ligue 1 is arguably at its lowest point in quite some time, but back-to-back title wins with the average gap between them and second being 10.5 points is impressive. Two straight Champions League quarterfinal appearances is no laughing matter and PSG could have easily been in the semifinals in both instances. The shelf life of this iteration of the project is nearing the end and though losing the domestic title to Lyon would be a shock, it still doesn’t take away from their success between 2012-14.

As for Monaco, it’s been very impressive to see them rebound despite FFP sanctions and their owner’s highly publicized divorce, which contributed to a mass exodus of talent last summer. The style of play is dogged, grim and downright putrid at times (but they still arsene-wengers-most-humiliating-defeats-arsenal-1-3-monaco_cmvbnk1artc31bpzhk1odphknbeat the shit out of Arsenal), but it works; they’re fourth in Ligue 1 and will participate in the CL quarterfinals (woo Ligue 1 coefficient!).

But I just don’t see how they could be a perennial challenger going forward unless Anthony Martial improves drastically or they find a world-class striker who they can keep for more than a year. Lyon look like they’ll be a formidable domestic club going forward with their youth academy policy and the added revenue of the Champions League, PSG will still be a contender in Ligue 1 even as they undergo a transition and Marseille, with a smart manager hire post-Bielsa, could lock themselves into a solid place for the next 3-4 years. A perennial top four side? Sure. But title contender might be too much, too soon. –Moe

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Mailbag: Bundesliga Race, MLS, Who Would Win a Staff Fight?

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Q: Why do Everton suck?

*We answered this question last week, but Jon requested a standing order, and we were only too happy to oblige.*

A: Damn it , Jon, Everton don’t suck. THEY BEAT YOUNG BOYS BERN AND LUKAKU SCORED A HAT TRICK.

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME. EVERYTHING IS COOL WHEN YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM.

Oh, you meant in the Premier League? Well, okay then.

I think Everton have been caught in the same trap that Borussia Dortmund have been caught in this season: they have no plan B for the teams that aren’t really surprised by them this season, Tim Howard is regressing, and last, but not least, injuries have hit this team hard.

Roberto Martinez’s first season in the blue side of Merseyside was anything but blue, as Bobby introduced a new style of play that his defensively inclined predecessor, David Moyes, shied away from.

Everton were fun, exciting, and a genuine threat to make it to Europe. Then they were fourth. And nothing was the same.

While Martinez’s offensive inclinations were a breath of fresh air, on the other side of the ball, Everton weren’t doing so great, with Tim Howard sometimes keeping them in games and winning them singlehandedly. That has dried up this season, and we are seeing the result.

Injuries have also taken a toll, as Seamus Coleman, Kevin Mirallas and Howard have all missed considerable time with various niggles.

Also gone is the element of surprise. Like the Phoenix Suns last year, Everton surprised a lot of teams by attacking. Bobby Martinez did something in his first year that David Moyes has never done in his tenure at Goodison Park: beat Manchester United at Old Trafford. Martinez also figured out a way to stifle and confuse Arsene Wenger by deploying Romelu Lukaku as a right sided winger alongside false nine (and Ballon D’Or winner) Steven Naismith. That is gone this season and teams have adapted to Everton, while the Blues sat idle.

If you recall, Martinez’s last season at Wigan saw the team from Greater Manchester win the FA Cup over Manchester City. That same season also saw Wigan relegated from the Premier League.

Luckily, it isn’t as dire for now 12th place Everton, and they have done really well in the Europa League, where the aforementioned issues aren’t as much of a hinderance.

This couldn’t come at a better time for Everton, as winning the Europa League this year gets you into the Champions League. And isn’t that what Bobby promised all along?–Ahmad

Q: Who’s grabbing the third Bundesliga CL spot and what makes you think so?

A: It’ll be a dogfight for the final Champions League spot in the German top flight. Schalke currently have that final spot, but they are level on points with surprising Augsburg and have Leverkusen breathing down their necks at two points back. Hoffenheim are five back. franco-di-santo-v-augsburg_3264557Werder Bremen are on fire and have pulled to within five as well. And who could forget about a resurgent Dortmund squad, winners of three on the trot and nine back?

I wrote about Roberto Firmino and Hoffenheim earlier this year; they are high on entertainment value but aren’t true contenders for that final spot, fun as they are. Franco Di Santo and Bremen have played great as of late–unbeaten in six, including a critical triumph over Hoffenheim–but only Hertha Berlin have played worse away from home. What’s more, Bremen have benefited greatly from a 35% conversion rate (12 goals/34 shots on target) over those six games, and that percentage has come down the past two matchdays. They’ll cool off.

Augsburg have hit a critical stretch of the season, and perhaps the pressure has started to get to Markus Weinzerl’s men; they blew a 2-0 lead against Frankfurt two weeks ago and needed a #KeeperGoal to secure a point against Leverkusen yesterday. They’re winless since the Dortmund game.

(Speaking of Dortmund, they could reach Europa League, but I think they dug too deep a hole and have too many teams to conquer in order to finish fourth. Plus, Champions League.)

Which leaves us with Leverkusen and Schalke. I favor Leverkusen not only for Roger Schmidt’s high-tempo, hyper-aggressive pressing style and superior squad, but because Schalke have been unhealthy and stale and uninspiring for swathes of this campaign. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar didn’t sustain a serious injury against Real Madrid and is nearing the end of his six-game Bundesliga ban, but Schalke weren’t particularly good when he was playing.–Jeremy

Q:  How many years until MLS is as attractive as a league like, say, the French or Portuguese leagues?

A: Major League Soccer is interesting, because I’ve always had lots of interest in it, but for many people, it’s hard to get into. Considering that I’m now a New York City FC season ticket holder, MLS should be more exciting than ever for me to watch.

But the problem with MLS is that Americans bash it for bringing over old, washed up players, hence why you hear people calling it “Men Leaving Soccer,” an abbreviation that’s up there in my “most annoying soccer abbreviation” ranks, because domestic supporters that are supposed to support their own league are bashing it by saying that the Premier League or La Liga is way better. Well, no shit, every Captain Obvious that proclaims that.

I’m not saying all Americans are bashing on their own league; many MLS clubs have incredibly passionate fan bases. But in order for the league to progress, broadcasting 16-David-Villa-holding-still4Cweboutfits are going to have to break the bank.

MLS has ESPN, Fox Sports and Univision broadcasting their games through the 2022 season; the colossal broadcasting outfits are there, but the problem at hand is the way the networks brand it (particularly ESPN). Unlike NBC Sports with it’s Premier League coverage, is terrible. When you watch EPL games on NBCSN, you have Goal Zone and post game interviews. It’s like ESPN shows more World Series of Poker reruns than MLS.  

The sad reality about MLS is that the interest level domestically has never held a national piqued interest. Attendance has increased yearly, but MLS isn’t the couch potato’s league. I’m hoping in the next five years or so that it’ll compete with the Portuguese Liga, Ligue 1, or even Serie A with the current crap they’re going through. Again, it’ll all depend on how networks market the league, as well as teams continuing to look for big name players to go after. Hopefully with NYCFC, Orlando City and the upcoming Atlanta franchise, the league will try and take advantage of marketing to new fans in the process. It won’t be easy.–Griffo

Q: What’s the biggest animal Harry Kane can eat whole?

A: Probably an organic grizzly bear. I’m not spitballing or anything.–Griffo

Q: If all of the EDIZD authors got in a fight, who would win?

A: I’ve chosen to answer this question using screencaps from our Slack page. (Cole and Griffo should be pretty clear, but Voyeur=Ahmad and Alex, Manchester=myself.)

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Chelsea 1 – PSG 1: Midfield Dominates, Forwards Stifled For Blanc’s Crew

PSG and Chelsea battled to a 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes, with PSG probably ruing the fact that they couldn’t get more out of this game.

Because of PSG’s injury problems (Serge Aurier, Yohan Cabaye, Lucas Moura and Marquinhos all sustained injuries against Caen, although Marquinhos was able to play), not many gave the Parisians a chance against Jose Mourinho’s squad. However, for all the injury woes the Fighting Zlatans had, their starting XI (shout out to Zac Cleary) wasn’t that bad, Ezequiel Lavezzi excluded (more on him later).

PSG lined up with Salvatore Sirigu, Gregory Van Der Weil, the aforementioned Marquinhos, captain Thiago Silva and Maxwell in defense, with usual center back David Luiz higher up the field as a defensive midfielder. Joining Sideshow Bob in the middle were Marco Verratti and, in my opinion the man of the match for PSG, Blaise Matuidi, with Edinson Cavani, Lavezzi and Zlatan up front.

Mourinho welcomed back Diego Costa for this tie, and the Brazilian Spaniard was joined by Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, and Cesar Azpelicueta in defense. The Chelsea midfield was composed of Nemanja Matic, Ramires, and Cesc Fabregas with Willian and Eden Hazard on the flanks.

From the beginning, it looked as though Chelsea were looking to play for a draw, as they didn’t look to attack PSG, inviting the Paris team to attack so they can counter. PSG was more than fine with this, and only Courtois’ brilliance in goal denied both Matuidi and Zlatan chances to put their team ahead.

PSG attacked Chelsea to no avail in the first half, and indeed it was Chelsea who went ahead in the 36th minute, with three of their four defenders combining to score a wonderful goal (off of their only shot on target) from frequent important goal scorer Ivanovic.

Game (and tie) over, right? Not quite.

 

PSG came out stronger in the second half and asserted their dominance, particularly in the midfield. The midfield three were compact all game, and while many will point to Verratti’s constant fouling and nullifying of Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas, it was Matuidi who was causing the most trouble for the London club.

luiz

Just Blaise was everywhere, completely stretching the Chelsea midfield and troubling Matic on more than one occasion. Since Mauricio Pochettino exposed the Chelsea defenders’ lack of pace in the New Year’s Day drubbing at White Hart Lane, teams have tried to attack Chelsea by either stretching the midfield – taking advantage of Fabregas’ seeming allergy to track back and play any defense, with him trying to mark Verratti being downright comical – or bypassing it altogether and attacking the flanks. PSG elected to do a combination of the two, and it was Blaise who was the catalyst for this approach.

He attacked Chelsea through the middle in the first half, but in the second half, he was drifting to the left whenever Cavani cut inside. Indeed, PSG equalized when those two combined in that effect, with Matuidi crossing from the left for the Uruguayan to head home a free header. The goal emboldened that approach, and on more than one occasion, PSG (and Cavani in particular) took advantage of the space between the Chelsea full back and center back. But because it was Cavani, his finishing left lots to be desired.

Blaise Matuidi heatmap via WhoScored.com

Blaise Matuidi heatmap via WhoScored.com

This was the pattern for most of the second half, and when Javier Pastore came on in the 80th minute (which should probably get Blanc fired, to be honest – HOW DO YOU WAIT EIGHTY MINUTES, FAM?), Cavani was pretty much the central striker, taking advantage of the space allowed to him by Zlatan in the box (Zlatan’s presence is a present, kiss my ass).

The Paris club attacked to the final whistle, and overall man of the match Courtois’ brilliance in goal was probably the main catalyst for Mourinho’s squad leaving with a draw.

Once again, Chelsea’s midfield was stretched, with Fabregas pretty much nullified. That was Mourinho’s biggest problem on the night. Thankfully for the manager, the team stretching his midfield was dealing with its own recurring problems of not being able to break down a team.

I have complete faith in Mourinho to at least attempt to correct that problem for the second leg at Stamford Bridge. I don’t have any reason to believe Blanc will even address any of his.

This was PSG’s best chance at stealing the tie, but poor finishing (and a Courtois masterclass) stifled all the good work their midfield was doing, again. “I must say, Chelsea didn’t show much,” Blanc said after the game.

Newsflash, Laurent: they didn’t have to.

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Lyon 1-1 PSG: The Slowing Down of a Kamikaze

N'Jie

When PSG and Lyon played in the Parc de Prince early in the season, Lyon didn’t look anywhere near the electrifying  presence they’ve came to be. Floundering in 12th place in Ligue 1, there was just an odd feeling to watching Lyon. If Alexandre Lacazette wasn’t scoring, then attacking wise, there was nothing else that Lyon were providing. What’s more, PSG weren’t in great form themselves but their previous track record plus the talent of the squad could just be checked off to a slow start.

Fast forward to today and the stakes are infinitely more important than their first enoucnter. Lyon have managed to turn around the club in less than a half a season and create Ligue 1’s version of 2013-14 Liverpool FC: a dynamic, fast, counter attacking side that also manages to overperform statistical data led by the league’s best striker duo in Lacazette and Nabil Fekir.

PSG haven’t been as thrilling to watch. By far the most talented squad, the season has been more a slog than a display of ruthless efficiency.

Of course Lyon had to face PSG at the Stade Gerland without Lacazette or Milan Besivac, one of their dependable center backs, out due to injury. On the other hand, PSG put out more or less their normal starting XI for one of the biggest matches in the French football calendar.

Pace, Pace and More Pace

Lyon more or less want to turn games into track meets. In their 4-1-2-1-2 formation, the strikers give the necessary width and direct speed to make up for the lack of wingers in their lineup. In the absence of Lacazette, Clinton N’Jie partnered up with Fekir. N’Jie is obviously not the same calibre of striker as Lacazette but he’s arguably quicker and faster, and with his very direct nature, he worked perfectly as an in-between striker/LW forward.

Lyon lined up in the same formation they had in the first fixture  and defaulted to a 4-3-3 defensively. They did the same thing against PSG, but instead of dropping back and allowing PSG the time on ball to pick apart the makeshift defense, they built a trapping press, similar to what you see in basketball when teams pressure around midcourt.

trap

There are obvious flaws of both playing such a high line and giving up the flanks in between the pressing lines against the likes of Lucas Moura who are very direct and can break a defense down when given that much space, but it was a risk worth taking from Lyon’s perspective. Marquinhos started at right back for PSG and although he’s been very good in his previous appearances at that position, you could live with Marquinhos having that room. PSG also aren’t a team to play long balls in behind a high pressing line, as they’re last in long balls with 54.

What Lyon wanted to do was create vicious counter attacks going forward. Lyon have produced the most counter attacking shots in Ligue 1 this season according to Opta. When Lyon did press the full length of the pitch, Fekir, N’Jie and Yoann Gourcuff looked to overload on the flanks against Maxwell or Marquinhos and force PSG into costly turnovers.

The problem Lyon faced in the second half was that, although PSG did allow turnovers as a result of the pressing nature, it only led to three shots total from Lyon. And yes Lyon did score on one of the three shots taken, but it took a wonderful pass from Fekir to thread the needle to N’Jie and the process of all that pressing led to an eventual drain in Lyon’s pressing activity, which PSG took advantage of.

The Downfalls of Pressing

The pressing and overloading from Lyon in the second half wasn’t nearly as succinct as it was in the first half and with that, Maxwell had a greater role to play. Maxwell had two fantastic crosses in the box early in the second half that Zlatan headed on goal. Nine times out of ten those end up in the back of the net for Lord Zlatan, but the brilliance of Anthony Lopes in goal denied Zlatan on countless occasions.

In the second half, PSG had a greater intensity to snuff out the little one-two combinations that Lyon’s attacking players used. Edinson Cavani isn’t the striker he once was but one of the few advantages to having him play as a pseudo left winger is his work rate. On a number of occasions you would see Cavani help out Maxwell and to a lesser extent Blaise Matuidi when a passing outlet was needed, which helped PSG get hold of possession to curtail Lyon when they sporadically pressed on:

Cava

What was also encouraging on PSG’s end was how little Zlatan played the deep #10 hole and tried to run in behind Lyon’s defense. On the instances that PSG did play long balls over Lyon’s defenses, Zlatan beat Lyon’s backline and got in behind them. He was a fraction offside on his spectacular disallowed goal early in the match and his movement on the whole looked a lot more cleaner than in previous matches, most notably against Saint Etienne, where his movements were quite robotic and stale.

The finishing still isn’t quite where it was last season, but whether it was the big game occasion or Zlatan’s overall fitness improving, this looked more like the Zlatan Ibrahimovic we’ve seen the last two seasons in PSG and not the marauding impersonation we’ve seen in the past few matches.

It was a job well done from PSG’s point of view. On the balance of play, they curtailed Lyon’s attack sans Lacazette. The expected goal battle was won in a landslide by PSG (1.86-0.35) and they’ve kept Lyon only two points above them in the standings. Lyon have four of their next five fixtures away from home, including an away trip to the Stade Veledrome against title contenders Marseille in the middle of March.

Meanwhile PSG still have the Champions League and the Coupe de France to worry about in addition to their quest for a third straight Ligue 1 crown. Their away fixtures against Monaco and Bordeaux might pose some troubles, and if they manage to progress past Chelsea in the Round of 16 CL tie, it will pose questions on how they’ll manage their squad depth for the stretch run in the league.

For the first time since 2011-12, Ligue 1 has itself a proper title race with three legitimate contenders vying for the crown. And perhaps the best thing for French football is the overwhelming favorite going into this season (PSG) will have to fight tooth and nail for the league that in previous years was a mere stroll in the Parc (des Princes).

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